Avoiding an echo chamber

We seem to be increasingly polarised these days. One of the ways in which the more antisocial and unpleasant factions get themselves into the debate is by telling the rest of us that if we don’t listen to them, we aren’t tolerant, and we’re just in an echo chamber. It’s a set of arguments that open hearted, well meaning people can find it hard to resist. I’ve talked about tolerance before – here’s one of those https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/abusing-your-tolerance/ An it harm none, do what you will – no tolerance required. If you cause harm, I’m not going to tolerate you.

As for the echo chamber, I think it needs poking. When we engage in discussion or conversation with others, we legitimise them. Now, I will cheerfully talk to people of other religious backgrounds, different cultures, different ages – there’s all kinds of ways of being open to different perspectives. If your perspective is well meant but different to mine I will listen to you and try to learn from you. If what you do is destructive, harmful, or intending to harm others or the planet, I really don’t care what you think. I don’t want to engage climate change deniers in debate because that’s acting like I take them seriously. I feel the same way about fascists. I simply want to thwart this where I can.

It’s usually (in my experience) folk on the far right who use the echo-chamber argument to try and get themselves a place at the table. As though there’s them, and the rest of us, two groups only, two perspectives and that to ignore them is to only listen to people you agree with. The world is bigger than this, it is more diverse and more complex. I can explore a great deal of diversity without having to engage with people whose notions I consider totally unacceptable.

Let’s take hunting as a case in point. I’m not personally in to hunting – I’m a vegetarian. I know many people who hunt for the pot, which I take no issue with. I know people who fly birds of prey – again this doesn’t bother me. I’ve had all kinds of interesting conversations with people who hunt in these ways. I would not accept as a friend someone who hunted foxes from horseback because it is a cruel and appalling business and I have no interest in the justifications. I equally have no interest in the opinions of people who burn moorlands to raise grouse, and who raise obscene numbers of pheasants in order to kill them for amusement and leave their bodies to rot. These behaviours are reprehensible, and I have zero interest in why people might defend these actions. I do not think I owe it to them to hear them out.

Cars are another case in point. I’m anti- cars, as regular readers will know. But at the same time, many people are trapped in car use and would like to burn less fuel and use fewer resources but the whole way their lives are set up and the physical structures of the places they live and work make it nigh on impossible. These are conversations we can have – I want to hear about those obstacles, and I want to offer what solutions I can, and I think we’re all better off for talking to each other.

I’m a finite person with limited time. I want to have the conversations that are of most use. I can’t afford the time or energy getting bogged down in the opinions of people whose behaviour I find unacceptable. I don’t need to know what the justifications of white terrorists are. I don’t need that in my head and knowing it won’t enable me to do anything better, and it certainly won’t help me change their minds. We’re all finite. It’s essential to experience different perspectives but I think it’s also good and necessary to protect ourselves from perspectives that can only make us miserable and to step back from conversations that are clearly pointless. Trust that if you mean well, you’ll do a decent job, and that you do not owe it to every single person who wants your time to give that to them unconditionally. You do not owe it to anyone to hear their view. It is a gift you can choose to give. Do not be persuaded through the idea of the echo chamber that you have to take on things you cannot bear or that will harm you.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Avoiding an echo chamber

  • Brendan Birth

    Yes, I find that it’s a balance (a delicate one at that) between hearing other ideas and also not making yourself feel miserable through debating over toxic ideas.

  • Yewtree

    Very well put.

    I saw a screenshot of a Facebook post recently that articulated why one does not debate with Nazis.The analogy was between a conversation and a dinner party. Normal conversation is like bringing different dishes to the table — stew, curry, burgers etc. Nazis want to bring shit to the table. (Sorry for the overly graphic image but I think it conveys the difference between normal healthy debate and debating with Nazis really well.)

  • mm

    Yes, very much my line of thought but you have put it more clearly and coherently than I’ve been able to do. I’m heading towards my 70th birthday with am dealing with health challenges and I simply don’t have the emotional and nervous energy to engage in unncessary debate with close-minded people . Hence, I suppose you could call my self-curated Facebook feed an echo chamber but it’s the best I can do right now.

  • Jessica Triepel

    I can understand where you’re coming from, and respect your choice of what grounds you will engage on. I would however suggest that you not be so quick to shut someone out because you find their views unacceptable. True, some people can’t be helped, like idiots hunting for sport, so don’t waste your energy on a lost cause. But for people on a political or social spectrum you find reprehensible, ask yourself how they got there. Maybe there is a wound to be healed or a fear driving their views and actions. Maybe you’re the one to help that person grow. Maybe not. Trust your intuition and go with it. We can be understanding without condoning things we find unacceptable. Tolerance for the living being, but not the darkness that infects the person.

    • Nimue Brown

      it is a fair point, but it’s a resourcing issue for me at the moment – I’m closer to burnout than is a good idea, trying to do a number of jobs, paid and voluntary, and in the early stages of the menopause which is messing me about hormonally and emotionally. I’ve got to pick my fights, and pick carefully who to take care and I honestly can’t afford to be trying to heal wounded people whose wounds have made them horrible. I’ve got rather a lot of lovely people who could use more care and support and it seems the better use of my time and energy. I can’t save everyone. I’m dealing with potentially thousands of people online, I have to draw lines. other people can draw theirs wherever it makes sense to them.

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